Braves 6, Giants 3: Considering the options on Ryan Vogelsong

San Francisco Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong throws to the Atlanta Braves during the first inning of a baseball game, Thursday, May 9, 2013, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)

San Francisco Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong throws to the Atlanta Braves during the first inning of a baseball game, Thursday, May 9, 2013, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)

Ryan Vogelsong’s ERA started at 8.44 after giving up five runs in 5.1 against the Cardinals in his first start of the year.

Then Vogelsong started dropping his ERA over the next three starts to 7.15, 5.89 and 5.68. You would have expected that trend to continue this early in the season.

And yet, Vogey’s ERA has gone the other direction over his last three starts: 6.23 after 5 ER in 5 IP vs. the Padres, 7.20 after 7 ER in 4.2 IP vs. the Dodgers and 7.78 after 6 ER in 4.1 IP vs. the Braves on Thursday.

To his credit, Vogelsong says he expects to make his next start Wednesday in Toronto. “Why wouldn’t I?” he said. He says his health and stamina are fine, and he feels “he’s close” to being where he needs to be.

And, of course, he’s overcome his share of adversity in his career.

I came through it after 13 years,” Vogelsong said. “I came through it after August of 2011. I came through it after August and September of 2012 , and I’ll come through it again this year.”

OK, let’s examine that.

When Vogelsong mentioned August of 2011, my first reaction was “He was bad in August 2011? I don’t remember that.” And there was good reason for that: He wasn’t that bad.

After his first start in August of 2011, Vogelsong was 9-1 with 2.19 ERA. He then lost six of his next seven starts, but his ERA rose to just 2.66. He had one start in which he gave up five runs in five innings, but did not allow any more than three runs in any of those other starts. So the issue wasn’t Vogey; it was the Giants offense.

But August-September of 2012 was something completely different. In a seven-start stretch, he went 2-4 with a huge 10.31 ERA. Vogelsong responded by giving up just one earned run in his final three starts (17 innings) of the regular season. Then in the postseason, he was 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA in four starts.

The Giants didn’t skip Vogey during that ugly stretch, and the Giants were in the middle of a pennant chase. But manager Bruce Bochy said the Giants were considering all options when it come to Vogelsong.

That fifth inning has been ugly, no doubt. Hitters are batting .500 in the fifth. While home runs allowed have been balanced, opponents have six doubles and triples in the fifth to only two in innings 1-4.

Opponents hit Vogelsong better each time they face him: .271 first time through the lineup, .333 second time, .367 third time. And strikeouts have gone down: 20 first time, 11 second time, 6 third time.

Split IP ER ERA AB R H 2B 3B HR
1st inning 7.0 4 5.14 28 4 8 0 0 1
2nd inning 7.0 4 5.14 28 5 7 0 0 2
3rd inning 7.0 5 6.43 29 5 8 1 0 2
4th inning 7.0 3 3.86 27 3 7 1 0 2
5th inning 6.0 16 24.00 32 12 16 3 3 1
6th inning 3.1 2 5.40 14 2 5 0 0 1
7th inning 2.0 0 0.00 6 0 2 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/10/2013.

There is one caveat to these numbers. Of the 12 fifth-inning runs allowed in the fifth inning, 10 have come in his last two starts (6 vs. Dodgers, 4 vs. Braves). Also four of those runs were scored after Vogelsong left the game because the reliever could not keep the inherited runners from scoring.

Still, the numbers are ugly, so it’s time to consider the options. So here they are:

BACK OFF BETWEEN STARTS: Vogelsong is a hard worker, a by-product of his path back to big leagues. He takes nothing for granted, and that’s why we love him. But that attitude could have a flip side. “If anything, he might work too hard at times,” Bochy said. So the Giants might monitor his throwing sessions between starts.

SKIP HIS NEXT START: The Giants have a off day on Monday, so they could skip Vogelsong’s turn in the rotation to give him time to work on things in the bullpen. But that would only move his next start from Wednesday in Toronto to Saturday (May 18) in Colorado. But how much good would three extra days rest do? Also, do you want to skip a start in Toronto to make one in Colorado? If he pitches on his normal turn, he would miss the four-game series at Coors.

SEND HIM TO THE PEN, FIND A REPLACEMENT: Vogelsong’s struggle set off calls to find someone in the minors to replace him. Well, this has been weakness of the Giants since spring training, and it hasn’t gotten much better. At Fresno, the starters include Chris Heston (3-2, 5.82 ERA), Mike Kickham (0-4, 5.65), Yusmeiro Petit (2-3, 6.69) and Boof Bonser (1-2, 5.45). The best option might be Shane Loux (3-1, 4.21), if that idea excites you. The numbers are better at Double-A where you have Justin Fitzgerald (3-0, 1.09) and Jack Snodgrass (3-0, 2.60). But the AA Atlantic League is a pitcher-friendly league, while the PCL is hitter-friendly. We’ve seen what making the jump from AA to AAA has done to the likes of Heston and Kickham. Making the jump all the way to bigs is a larger leap. Plus moving Vogelsong to the pen thins out an already overtaxed bullpen. Using long reliever Chad Gaudin as a spot starter is iffy. He’s only made one appearance of 3 innings, so stretching him out is no given. Plus, again, it thins out the pen.

KEEP HIM IN THE ROTATION AND LET HIM WORK IT OUT: These appears to be the most likely option, at least for now. While Bochy did talk about “options” he also said: “I do think the pitches caught up with him in the fifth,” Bochy said. “He worked pretty hard and he was up to 90 pitches in 4 1/3 innings. Up to that point, he was pretty good.” So while the Giants would love to get 6 or 7 solid innings from Vogey in Toronto, where the DH allows pitcher to go deeper into games, he may be on a very short leash, with Gaudin ready to pick up the innings on the back side.

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